Thursday, August 11, 2016

Movie Review #469: "Pete's Dragon" (2016)

Image Source
Movie"Pete's Dragon"
Director: David Lowery
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

After a tragic accident, a young boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) is left to fend for himself in the wilds of the forest. In danger and scared, a dragon comes to his aid and keeps him safe. They spend the next six years in the woods together, until one day, Pete is spotted and is taken back civilization, while his dragon Elliot becomes the target of a hunt.

Directed by David Lowery, "Pete's Dragon" is a modern day family adventure remake of the classic 1977 Disney musical of the same name. The major difference between the two films is nobody is singing any catchy tunes in this offering. It stars Oakes Fegley as the titular Pete, a young boy who finds himself alone in the woods after tragedy befalls his family. He is saved by a magical, fuzzy green dragon he calls Elliot, and the two have lived carefree in the forest for many years together. Joining Fegley are Bryce Dallas Howard as Grace, a park ranger who tries to help Pete; Wes Bentley, who plays Grace's boyfriend Jack; Oona Laurence, who plays Jack's daughter Natalie, who is the one who actually finds Pete; Karl Urban, who plays Jack's brother Gavin, the one determined to capture Elliot; and Robert Redford, who plays Grace's father Meacham, a man who has built his life around telling stories about the day he saw a dragon. With this impressive cast, it's not hard to see how "Pete's Dragon" got remade. Oakes Fegley is adorable as Pete. His rugged, dirty look and big, soft eyes would make even the toughest soul want to pinch his cheeks and adopt him, too. Oona Laurence is also really good in this project as she teaches Pete about the complexities of life, like how to brush his teeth and how you shouldn't poke your sandwich. Bryce Dallas Howard fills the wanting mother role like it was made for her, but she does't have a whole lot of substance to her part. And speaking of substance, Wes Bentley is nearly useless and Karl Urban is the would-be antagonist of this story. Robert Redford barely has any screen time as well, but when he does show up, he's effective enough as the movie's narrator and sage. Together, this group of people learns what it means to love, to find what they were missing in life, and discover just how magical life can be.

Though the trailer didn't grab us right away, we love the original "Pete's Dragon," so we were excited to see what Disney could do with a remake. This is a straightforward family adventure movie with a plot that's mostly thin and feels like something we have seen before from other Mouse-House offerings. There isn't exactly a whole lot of character development throughout the film. Each character seems to have a specific role within the context of the story, and that is their sole purpose. Each character plays their part and doesn't deviate from that function. Take Wes Bentley's Jack for example. He virtually has no purpose in the story other than his loose connection between the characters Grace, his girlfriend, and Gavin, his brother, as well serving as a patriarchal figure to complete the look of the typical nuclear family for the orphan Pete to see and pine for once he is taken out of the forest. Take Karl Urban's Gavin as a second example. It is obvious he doesn't see eye to eye with his brother Jack, and there is an underlying, clearly deep-seeded tension there, so Gavin has to assert his dominance over each and every situation by (sometimes literally) bulldozing his way into it, hunting for Elliot included.

Disney has been 2016's animation king this year between "Zootopia," "The Jungle Book," and "The BFG." We think the CGI work on implemented in this film is excellent, especially Elliot's furry dog-like look and mannerisms. The texturing of Elliot's fur looks so realistic, like you could reach out and feel it being smooth underneath your fingertips. His really is a cute, sweet character, but cuteness only takes a movie so far. The beginning 15 minutes are exceptional. When Pete and Elliot meet for the first time, this is the only instance where we came close to being emotionally attached to the characters and situations in "Pete's Dragon." As soon as Pete is brought into the real world, from then on, the film becomes a by-the-book fantasy adventure with a lot of running, a lot of chasing, a lot of phone calls, and not much else. There are some fun moments here and there, mostly from the interactions between Elliot and the human characters, but as an adventure, there isn't a whole lot of excitement to be had. There's also not much at stake for Pete, which is part of the reason the original worked so well and tugged at your heartstrings like it did. Of course, Disney can't exactly portray a kid getting abused by his adoptive parents now, so they have had to take the story and retool it in a way that we think plays it safe and doesn't fully capitalize on the emotional weight of the impending situations.

There are very few similarities between this remake and the 1977 version, which is totally fine, but must be mentioned for those thinking it will be very similar to its predecessor. There is an orphan named Pete and he has a dragon named Elliot, but beyond this, 2016's updated version of "Pete's Dragon" has no fan service or callbacks. Despite being a re-imagined version of the movie, it still winds up feeling like a dozen other live action Disney family adventure films like the ones we saw throughout the 80's and 90's. Though not completely terrible and still a joy at times to watch, in a year that gave us the amazing live action adaptation of "The Jungle Book," "Pete's Dragon" fails to achieve anything close to the sense of wonder, magic, and excitement we had hoped for from this remake. There is enough to keep you interested, especially if you have little kids, but we left the theater feeling quite underwhelmed by the final product.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?


  1. Pete's Dragon felt like a generic late 80's/early 90's family movie with modern CGI. It felt uneven and took too long to get to the meat. By the time it go there, I was already over it.

    1. It really did. It was fine, but nothing spectacular. Everyone was ga-ga over it, but it's really sort of boring for half of it.